A trip to Bortle 4 – or Wiltshire as it is commonly called

One afternoon last week I felt inspired to have a bit of a practice at sharpening my night photography skills. Not only my skills (or otherwise) with my camera but also using some of the knowledge I have started to acquire from the likes of Alyn Wallace, Robert Harvey and numerous other “YouTube experts”.


I was aware of the last supermoon of the year; known as the Sturgeon Moon (in America, coined by the Indians) but here in the UK as the “Corn” moon. Harvest time you see. So my planning began. Here are the steps I took:

Researched the weather using-

  • Accuweather – good for general weather, better than the BBC?
  • Meteo Blue – takes an average of 20 weather forecasts but also presents a great prediction of cloud cover and height of cloud cover
  • Clear Outside and Good to Stargaze – predictors of clear skies.

All good. Thursday night was perfect. The Moon was at its Full stage.

I then started to think of a location. I choose Wiltshire because I am getting to know it, I’ve read Robert Harvey’s excellent book and it is the closest location with relatively dark skies. Environmental darkness is measured on the Bortle scale with London Grade 1, Welsh mountains grade 5-6 and Wiltshire countryside about Bortle 4.

Specifically, I wanted to photograph the rising Corn Supermoon. I needed a location which provided some foreground interest and would place the moon’s size into some sort of context. In order to maximise that I would need to be using a long telephoto lens ie:- to be some distance from my foreground interest, have an unobstructed view and for it to be accessible.

I chose Silbury Hill as I was familiar with that area and my concept was simple – photograph the moon as it “sat” on the conical peak of the hill. Simple! I then used The Photographers Ephemeris to work out when the moon would rise and in what direction, estimating where it would be in the sky to sit on top of that hill. Google/Ordnance survey mapping allowed me to find a suitable access – a public footpath of the A4 to get to the right place for moon rise – ahead of 9.04pm.

The shoot

Off I went, arriving on location at 8pm. Good job I was early- the footpath was completely overgrown and inaccessible. I tried to scout alternative locations but with no success, so returned to my original plan and could see where other walkers had used the side of the farmers field. There were no crops so I judged I would not be causing any damage.

Next step – mount on tripod and zoom to the focal length I needed. 135mm was set up. This was my first compromise – I really wanted to be at the 300mm of my telephoto which would allow me to emphasise the apparent size of the moon relative to my foreground. But I was only about 800yards away from the hill constrained by access and the lie of the surrounding land. I knew that similar photographs had been taken a mile distant! Keep calm, carry on.

Then my second challenge. The moon started to rise. It rises fast!!!

I realised I was slightly out of position and needed to run further up the field by about 300 yards to ensure the moon was central to Silbury Hill. I then set my exposure – I know I wanted about f/9 for this lens, needed about ½ second exposure (the moon rises quickly, remember) and then set the lowest ISO I could get. Manual exposure settings. This fiddling meant I missed the capture I really wanted with the moon just resting on top of the hill. But I did get lucky in that a combine harvester, lights on came into the frame allowing me an image which I can call “Harvesting under the Corn Moon”


Harvesting under the Corn Moon

I took several images with slightly different compositions and exposures. This is my favourite. In terms of post processing, despite the exposure challenge I think I just pulled down highlights and increased shadows in LR. Simple as that. It might be worth playing with a bit more, we’ll see.


I hope this gives some insight into planning and execution of such a photo. I am not purporting to be an expert, merely sharing my experience with you. Come and join me later in the new season with the DarKnights SIG.


Gareth Fish

Gareth Fish

Generally having fun, mostly outdoor genres of photography. I look after the Night Photography SIG for the club. If you are interested in going the DarKnights, give me a call

One thought on “A trip to Bortle 4 – or Wiltshire as it is commonly called

  • Great article Gareth. It sounds like you planned well and perhaps next time you will have to bring some secateurs to clear your path.

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